Hanna, there's no way anything I might say could measure up to your eloquence here. But you inspire me, so I'll try.
I'm here because little more than a year ago, after seeing and hearing Abraham Lincoln in the flesh -- when he was temporarily housed in the body of a guy named Daniel Day-Lewis -- I simply had to learn more about that dear, heroic man and the times he lived in. As I began reading books about Lincoln, he, in turn, introduced me to "his" general, "Sam" Grant, an unprepossessing failed farmer who stole my heart from the moment I began learning the truth behind all the false myths maliciously circulated about him since before the war even began. As someone whose knowledge of the Civil War had previously not gone much further than a certain Clark Gable movie, I was also amazed to start learning the truth about W.T. Sherman, who I now find was nothing at all like the fanged, horned villain he's been made out to be, not only in that infamous movie but in most other places in our culture as well.
I'm here because I find paradoxes endlessly fascinating. How does one ever get one's mind around, for example, Stonewall Jackson, a saintly individual who nevertheless fought for a cause that was, as Grant put it, "one of the worst for which a people ever fought"?
I'm here because, like the Old Testament, the American Civil War seems to contain in intensely concentrated microcosm the whole variety of human experience, both that of individuals and that of nations. Good and evil, conscience and corruption, duty and responsibility and cowardice, compassion and cruelty, justice, dignity, courage and fear, magnificence and pettiness, faith and despair, reason and madness -- all are met in that horrible conflagration that, most mind-blowingly of all, really did happen HERE.
I grew up in Texas and now call Kansas home -- and everything from "Hood's Texans" to "Bleeding Kansas" has become part of my interior landscape. Driving to a high-school basketball game recently, I passed the site of an army fort that Grant and Sherman inspected in 1868, after the tragedy of the Civil War was giving way to the next big national tragedy, the final stand of the Plains Indians. When I drive between my two home states, traversing Oklahoma, I think of all the Civil War battles that were fought in that state, and how the nations within Indian Territory were divided within themselves as kinsmen fought against each other, some siding with the Union, some with the rebel South. Whenever I cross the Red River into or out of Texas, I get the heebie-jeebies, thinking of all the terror and misery that took place along that very river's banks further downstream where, on the giant cotton and sugar plantations of Louisiana, slaves such as Solomon Northup and other real, living equivalents of the fictional Uncle Tom endured unimaginable horrors.
The Civil War was so powerful, so transformative, so huge in our national subconscious, that now that I have consciously learned more about it, it spontaneously comes to mind through countless connections in my everyday life. I know what you and Forever Friend mean about thinking of those poor suffering soldiers whenever you experience some mild discomfort such as cold or hunger. I especially think of those soldiers when health problems come up. I'm dealing with a leg infection right now that, had I lived then, would have me dead by now -- or at least, minus a leg -- had I lived back then. I remember how Grant was only in command at Shiloh because his superior and mentor C.F. Smith could no longer be in charge, since he lay dying at the time -- dying -- of the infection he got after scraping his leg -- scraping his leg! -- on the wooden seat of a rowboat when he debarked.
And yet, for all that modern medicine and other technological developments have made our lives more comfortable, are we really any more secure? Is the world at large any less violent? Are human beings any more virtuous now than then? Are we not still fallen creatures? Do we not, each and every one of us, make moral choices daily that impact the future, and those around us in the present, in powerful ways, regardless of whether we see those consequences as clearly as if they were written in blood?
Okay- first of all I think that post left me in the dust and then some- umm... wow, you a professional writer? - and second of all- agreed. With all of it. The paradoxes, the people who seem like one thing but turn out to be so much more complex, and the fact that we're so different and so much the same.